An Oral History of the Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show, ie, “Prince wants to know if you can make it rain harder.”
This engaging memoir piece that originally ran in Texas Monthly is really worth your time.
So, the insanely talented bandleader on James Corden’s Late Late Show is a guy named Reggie Watts. Astute readers of Heathen should note that the first mention here of Watts or his output is actually in the long-ago era of 2002, when I hipped you all to Watts’ prior band Maktub; here’s a YouTube clip of one of their songs.
Somewhere along the line, Watts pivoted to comedy; you can see he’s there already in his 2012 TED talk, which I just saw (again) on a “best of 2010s” list, and so here we are.
This excellent performance of Bowie’s “Five Years” by the Cowboy Junkies is worth your time.
But if you haven’t seen them in a long while, you may — as I was — be taken aback by Margo’s white hair. You shouldn’t; Timmons was born in 1961, just like plenty of the musical idols of our shared youth (I mean, she’s younger than all the members of R.E.M., for example).
The Trinity Session is, of course, over 30 years old now.
And then there’s this: Have you looked in the mirror lately? Odds are, you’re getting older, too.
Ric Ocasek, of course, has died. He was 75.
His age is only one of the several surprising things I learned about him in the wake of his passing. The Cars were an earlier, more established band than most of what I listened to growing up, so I understand they’re likely to be older (ie, born in the 1940s, like the members of Blondie, not the 1950s or 60s, like bands that hit in the mid-80s), but still: Ric Ocasek was 75? I mean, damn; that puts him in the same age cohort as folks who hit in the early 60s, like the Stones. (Benjamin Orr, who died of cancer in 2000, was only a little younger (b. 1947).)
The second surprising thing is this: though estranged for about a year or so, he and Paulina Porizkova were still married. Rock musicians and supermodels aren’t the sort of folks you think of when you say “thirty year marriage,” but here we are.
Finally, I found this morning that the song I most wanted to see — well, the video I most wanted to see — was “Magic” from 1984’s Heartbeat City. You know it: it’s the one where Ocasek appears to walk on water in a fancy swimming pool behind an even fancier home.
Here’s the fun part: That house is the west coast family home for Richard and Kathy Hilton, i.e. Paris’ parents. Paris, born in 1981, would’ve been about 3 when they shot this video.
Sinead O’Connor performs Nothing Compares 2 U on the Irish Late Late Show.
We all owe her a tremendous apology. She’s clearly fought no end of personal demons, but holy Jesus can she still sing.
“Hey, how about we play a guitar through 319 effects pedals at once?”
It’s probably time to remind you of the glory that is Hurra Torpedo’s rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, from way back in 2005.
It’s still my favorite version of the song.
This is a really great piece on Phish from an outsider’s perspective.
So I went to a Phish show. It was a big deal, not because I love Phish, but because my partner Leah loves them, and I emphatically do not. In our nearly 14 years together, this hasn’t been a problem (apart from the time she tried to make the case that a band I like is similar to Phish, and I, uh, did not respond well), but after I reluctantly agreed to finally go to a show with her, it started to feel increasingly consequential: If ever an event could shatter any notion of our fundamental compatibility, it would be this one. And ending a long-term relationship surrounded by 25,000 people whose collective drug haze effectively constitutes its own microclimate seemed less than ideal. So I decided to do everything I could to approach the live Phish experience as gracefully as possible.
Phish culture’s preppie-infused hippie essence is equally off-putting. Maybe it’s because punk happened; or because we’ve internalized the war on drugs; or because Don Henley saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac; or because Phish’s music generally has no discernible message; or because it all seems so anachronistic and naive and lazily escapist. Whatever the reason, ingesting an assortment of psychedelics and blissfully writhing along with a 30-minute Trey Anastasio guitar solo while wearing a donut-patterned beach towel as a cape is the kind of behavior that might make you more enemies than friends.
And (my favorite):
This was the baggage I brought with me to Camden, New Jersey’s BB&T Pavilion, where we set up a blanket on the lawn about 20 minutes before showtime. There were six of us: three fans and three non-fans, which sounds like a nice even split until you remember that my two pseudo-anthropologist compatriots and I were actually outnumbered by about 8,000 to one. And let me tell you, those many thousands of Phishheads were very, very happy to be there. When the first few notes of the poetically named “Mike’s Song” kicked off the show, the crowd reacted as if Prince had returned from the dead and announced he’d be producing new episodes of The Wire.
Reader, I lol’d. (Emph. added.)
Brass Against and Maya Azucena wail on this cover of Janes Addiction’s Mountain Song. Play it loud.
Also and forever ago, here’s a disconcertingly joyful rendition of Love Will Tear Us Apart from New Orleans’ own Hot 8 Brass Band. It’s on your favorite music service, too, so you can easily give ‘m some love. I did.
Someone has Kickstartered a Bluetooth-enabled cassette player.
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? Cassettes are BULLSHIT. Trust me. I’m GenX. I know things.
This might be the best one-song TV performance I’ve ever seen, and it’s 40 years old now. I’m having trouble nailing down the date, but there’s a graphic for Unknown Pleasures behind them; that album was recorded in April of 1979, and behind it they played twice on British television: in July of 79, on Granada TV, and soon after that on BBC2’s Something Else.
They’d release Transmission as a stand-alone, non-album single the following November, seemingly poised for larger success. And then, of course, Ian Curtis would take his own life in May of the following year, at 23.
Ladies and gentlemen, Thomas Benjamin Wild, Esq.
Longtime Heathen know our fondness for Mr Waits; this excellent retrospective of his early work — from his debut with Closing Time in 1973 through 1980’s Heartattack and Vine — traces his progression from neo-tin-pan-alley to the much more experimental artist he would eventually become.
After 1980, he would leave Asylum records and begin his collaboration (and marriage) with Kathleen Brennan; the changes were stark when Island Records released Swordfishtrombones three years later. (That’s the album, of course, which features “Johnsburg, Illinois,” about his new wife’s birthplace.)
This is a surprising story, and not just because the Eels are involved. Seriously. Make time.
No, seriously. SFW.
When I see interesting things on Twitter I don’t have time for right away, I email the tweet to myself. Generally what happens then is I forget completely about it in my inbox, since I’m a proud practitioner of Inbox 9,028.
I was just reviewing some of those, and I found a tweet from @ParkerMolloy saying “This is the weirdest music video I’ve seen in a while” with a Youtube link.
Parker is not wrong. Stay with it until AT LEAST 2:00. Longer is better. Plus, it’s catchy.
Definitely NSFW, however. Also, trigger warning for puppet sex — which, I think, is a first for Heathen. Go us.
Exhibit A, the 1980 video for Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” — a great song, to be sure:
Too bad about that video, because HOLY CRAP it’s kind of amazing this effort didn’t kill the whole notion of music videos in its crib. After about the 5th or 6th time I realized the shot was directly and literally mirroring the lyrics, I started making notes. Follow along if you dare.
- 0:20 “laying everybody low”
- As the Romeo actor saunters down a stylized hallway, actors he passes collapse to the floor.
- 0:47 “He’s underneath the window”
- He is underneath a stylized featureless wall with a high window, in which our Juliet lounges.
- 1:03 “…the dice was loaded from the start”
- A disembodied hand shakes and releases dice. The dice have Romeo and Juliet’s faces on them!
- 1:09 “…and you exploded in my heart”
- The Romeo die explodes.
- 1:18 “…the movie song…”
- New set, invoking a movie theater MST3K-style with patron silhouettes in front below a screen. Juliet is on the screen.
- 1:38 “..come up on different streets”
- Romeo and Juliet sashay towards the camera down two parallel, stylized hallways — separated by a wall, natch. Is nothing is too on the nose for this director?
- 1:57 “…fall for chains of silver”
- I think we have our answer.
- 1:59 “…chains of gold…”
- We absolutely have our answer.
- 2:05 “…pretty strangers…”
- A smiling, handsome man in a cheesy fedora rolls by in a T-top Camaro.
- 2:22 “…when we make love, you used to cry”
- This guy makes Brian De Palma look subtle. It’s a tight shot of Juliet’s eye and a single, absurdly large tear. Obviously.
- 2:28 “…there’s a place for us”
- Two folks enter the movie theater set, and take the only two seats left. At least the two people aren’t together, and aren’t Romeo and Juliet, so progress, maybe?
- 2:38 “…just that the time was wrong”
- We’re still in the theater, but the film stops on a shot of Romeo trying to speak to Juliet — but the film stops, and the celluloid burns away! Tragic! Edgy! (And, I assume, completely baffling to millennials.)
- 2:52 “I can’t do the talk like the talk on the TV”
- JESUS CHRIST JUST SHOOT ME. It’s a shot of woman’s disembodied legs wrapped around a small television, on which we see a nose-down shot of a male actor rapidly moving his mouth around as if he’s talking.
- 3:14 “All I do is miss you”
- Our Romeo has fallen from a height and is splayed out, miserably, against a wall. This may seem like progress, but you will be disappointed, because it’s just a setup for what comes next.
- 3:17 “…and the way we used to be”
- Juliet magically fades in, lounging beside him, and then fades away again.
- 3:23 “and keep bad company”
- Romeo is still splayed out as before, but is now surrounded by a several sets of standing legs.
- 3:27 “kiss you”
- Kisses mean lips! The shot cuts briefly from Romeo’s splayed form to a tight shot of Juliet’s lips, then back to Romeo, over and over.
- 3:39 “…used to cry…”
- Improbably enormous tear shot repeats from 2:22.
- 3:46 “there’s a place for us”
- We’re in the theater set again, but now it’s just R&J seated front and center watching a film of themselves lying on a rug together all cozy.
- 3:56 “it’s just that the time was wrong”
- The movie versions of our heroes vanish, leaving the poignantly empty rug.
- INTERPRETIVE DANCE; fadeout as Knopfler plays.
He has a new record coming out. Here is a great, wide-ranging interview with him that includes a number of embedded videos, so you can sample his work.
He’s playing in Austin on 28 October. I plan to be there. You should give it some thought as well.
This is pretty great.
The film was shot just a tiny bit before grunge really exploded nationwide. 1991 was kinda ground zero for grunge releases — Nevermind, obviously, but also Mudhoney’s Every Good Boy record, Pearl Jam’s Ten, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, the Temple of the Dog one-off, and others. Alice in Chains’ Dirt came out the next year. But, critically, when they were shooting this film, none of those records were out or successful. Pearl Jam wasn’t even Pearl Jam yet; they’d only just brought in Eddie, and were still called “Mookie Blaylock”.
So anyway: Seattle wasn’t SEATTLE yet, and none of those people were particularly famous. Crowe, living in Seattle and married to a local, was falling in love with the growing scene, which is where the film came from. People who became huge months later appear in the film in tiny parts — Jeff Ament is in Matt Dillon’s band, for example. Alice in Chains and Soundgarden are bands playing in bars. And, as you’ll read in the interview, these folks hung around the production, even when they weren’t working — including Cornell.
Anyway. As part of the arc of the film, Dillon’s character Cliff Poncier loses his girl, his band and goes solo, and as was the custom of the time makes a solo tape to hawk while busking. It was just a prop, but Ament actually designed it, right down to (fictional) song titles and whatnot.
And then something interesting happened; Crowe tells it:
It’s kind of amazing. The idea was that Matt Dillon’s character, Cliff Poncier, in the course of the movie, he loses his band, and he loses his girlfriend, and he gains soul. So, there’s a period where he’s on a street corner busking, having lost his band, but beginning his solo career. And there would be, in reality, these guys standing on the corner outside the clubs in Seattle hawking their solo cassettes. So we wanted Cliff Poncier to have his own solo cassette. And Jeff Ament, in classic style, designed this cassette cover and wrote out these fictitious song names for the cassette.
And Chris Cornell was another guy who was close to us when we were making the record, and still is a good friend. I really loved Soundgarden; they were my favorite band. I originally thought Chris could play the lead, but then I think that turned into too big of a commitment for everybody and so he became the guy he is in the movie, but in the course of making the movie he was close to all of us. He was always around.
Anyway, Jeff Ament had designed this solo cassette which we thought was hilarious because it had all of these cool song titles like “Flutter Girl,” and “Spoonman,” and just like a really true-type “I’ve lost my band, and now I’m a soulful guy – these are my songs now” feeling. So we loved that Jeff had played out the fictitious life of Cliff Poncier. And one night, I stayed home, and Nancy, we were then married, she went out to a club, and she came back home, and she said, “Man, I met this guy, and he was selling solo cassettes, and so I got one for you.” And she hands me the Cliff Poncier cassette. And I was like, “That’s funny, haha.” And then she said, “You should listen to it.” So I put on the cassette. And holy shit, this is Chris Cornell, as Cliff Poncier, recording all of these songs, with lyrics, and total creative vision, and he has recorded the entire fake, solo cassette. And it’s fantastic. And “Seasons” comes on. And you just can’t help but go, “Wow.” This is a guy who we’ve only known in Soundgarden. And of course he’s incredibly creative, but who’s heard him like this? And we got to use “Seasons” on the soundtrack, and Chris did some of the score.
How neat is that?
From the WaPo’s “After Chris Cornell’s death: ‘Only Eddie Vedder is left. Let that sink in.’“, we find this:
Cornell hanged himself in a Detroit hotel room after performing what would become his final show with his band, which he closed by playing “In My Time of Dying” by Led Zeppelin.
Also, yeah, someone please make sure Eddie is okay.
Here’s the Tedeschi Trucks Band with Sharon Jones playing “Tell Mama” live in Vegas from June, 2015.
Here’s 70 minutes of the drum fill from “In The Air Tonight”, except it’s tripled, and one is played 0.1% faster, and one is played 0.1% slower.
I had, until today, somehow escaped knowing that Joe Scarborough also (a) went to UA (class of 1985, according to Wikipedia) and (b) is an R.E.M. fan.
This particular fact came to my attention because of this tweet,
Vinyl Solution (singular, Joe, not plural) is gone now, but when I was in Tuscaloosa (summer ’87, and then ’88-’94), VS was the place to go for new music. There were chain stores (including a Turtle’s, back when they gave out stamps), but VS was place to be. I bought my first Dylan there, my first Velvet Underground, and my copy of the #1 Record/Radio City combo disk from the owner’s favorite band, Big Star. On my infrequent visits back after leaving, I still made a point of dropping in and buying something. When George closed it to retire, it was like my youth shutting its doors, but, you know, sic transit gloria mundi.
But now I am, and you will be, too, as soon as you scroll to the bottom of this feature and see what Roy Haynes is wearing.
Go read this recollection of a teenage girl in California, her little brother, and their first R.E.M. show in 1985.
In the 80s, I kept the tape in the car, unless I needed inside. When I started replacing tapes with CDs, a bonus was that I could keep the CD in the house and the cassette in the car, so I had it everywhere. In the MP3 era, it’s always been on my phone for easy access anywhere. And, obviously, as I write this, it’s playing in my office using technology that was science fiction at its release three decades ago.
A few fine quotes about Hamiltons’ pal John Laurens:
[Laurens] became close friends with his fellow aides-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton and the General Marquis de Lafayette. He showed reckless courage at the battles of Brandywine, Germantown in which he was wounded, and Monmouth, where his horse was shot out from under him. After the battle of Brandywine, Lafayette observed that, “It was not his fault that he was not killed or wounded … he did every thing that was necessary to procure one or the other.”
Unfortunately, his luck ran out at the 1782 Battle of the Combahee River in South Carolina, when he was only 27. Washington said
In a word, he had not a fault that I ever could discover, unless intrepidity bordering upon rashness could come under that denomination; and to this he was excited by the purest motives.
And, of course, from Hamilton himself:
I feel the deepest affliction at the news we have just received at the loss of our dear and inestimable friend Laurens. His career of virtue is at end. How strangely are human affairs conducted, that so many excellent qualities could not ensure a more happy fate! The world will feel the loss of a man who has left few like him behind; and America, of a citizen whose heart realized that patriotism of which others only talk. I feel the loss of a friend whom I truly and most tenderly loved, and one of a very small number.
John Laurens is buried in land that is now a Trappist monastery (Mepkin Abbey) in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.
(Laurens was the only of Hamilton’s crowd to die before he did. Hercules Mulligan died in his eighties, and is buried at Trinity Church, which is also where you’ll find Hamilton’s tomb. Lafayette died at 76; he’s interred in Paris, covered in small part by soil brought over from Bunker Hill. An American flag always flies over his grave.)
Liz Meriwether recounts how Prince came to be a part of New Girl. Make time.
D’Angelo with two excellent backing singers, last night on Fallon:
“Hey, did you ever here that song Prince wrote for Kenny Rogers?
Hamilton is pretty much on fire, but I admit I wasn’t really receptive until the JoCoCruise. I had apparently even skipped the New Yorker article last February about Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Off-Broadway production (which you should track down and read, because it’s amazing, too.)
Anyway. That article mentioned the origin of the show: basically, Miranda got obsessed with Hamilton after reading Ron Chernow‘s biography, and started working on material. The first public airing of the work was the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and Spoken Word — in 2009.
Well, dear reader, you’re in luck; the piece then called “The Hamilton Mixtape” was taped. Here you go. First taste is free.
Actually, it’s the first TWO tastes, because for the Grammys they took a live feed from the theater to show the Grammy audience the first number of an actual performance of the show on Broadway. So here’s what that song became five years later. The lyrics are mostly the same; the biggest difference is that instead of all being from Burr, it’s split up between Burr, Laurens, Jefferson, Madison, Eliza, and Washington.
(Seriously, the embedded link is like watching that old footage of Prince playing “Purple Rain” for the first time. It’s amazing.)
First, Song Exploder is brilliant, and you should be paying attention to it.
Second, this feature has a number of musicians discussing particular Bowie songs, and includes John Roderick on Space Oddity (reproduced below). This is awesome because, of course, Roderick has a lost-astronaut song of his own that I’ve seen him play live.
Space Oddity is the original and still the best lost astronaut song, released only a few days before the Apollo 11 launch in 1969. It was originally a current events song! Maybe even a novelty song, if the events in question weren’t so solemn. All the more of an accomplishment, then, that it still sounds futuristic and provokes anxiety 47 years later. In 1969 space travel seemed poised to become mundane–we would soon all be living on space stations, wearing jumpsuits and enjoying science drinks–but Bowie sided with Kubrick that, in addition to metaphysical magic, suburbia, celebrity, and product placement and malfunction would follow us to the stars. Like so much of Bowie’s music, Space Oddity has themes and sounds that in less adroit hands would be corny. The countdown at the top of the song and the horn swell “rocket ship taking off” are so literal you almost roll your eyes, but Bowie’s voice is so urgent you lose all desire for detachment. It’s hard for us now to imagine the emotional moment of 1969, with all the war, violence, unrest and upheaval taking place. The world-historical venture into space, armed with science and human confidence, wasn’t yet a fait accompli. We still could have fucked it up, left dead astronauts on the lunar surface, surrendered to the impossibility of Kennedy’s hubristic challenge and Vietnammed ourselves into a death throe. Instead, we succeeded, and Bowie more than any other artist made outer space the dominant theme of his work for many years after. His persona allowed him to comment on contemporary events from a place that felt like objectivity. Bowie saw us like an alien might, but he loved us and got bloody with us because he was trapped here, or emigrated here on his own, so he took our side. Bowie screeched and squawked and filled his music with unearthly noises and we accepted it because we were so flattered that this metallic space Phoenix was interested in talking to us. The appeal of the Rolling Stones was that you were supposed to feel lucky some cool junkies invited you to listen to their sex party through a keyhole, but Bowie had a message about the salvation of humanity. He seemed to be telling us that the looming apocalypse was survivable? Escapable, maybe? Maybe not, though. Maybe we should just quit fighting and have sex a lot until the fire tornados come? Maybe Major Tom experienced a malfunction and his spacecraft was lost, but more likely Major Tom severed his own tether for reasons known only to him. Maybe he saw something, or someone was waiting out there for him, or he realized the futility of our seeking, or he found what we’re all seeking in the eternal quiet.
From the RS tribute issue:
Trent Reznor’s comments include Bowie helping him get sober: “I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.“. You should absolutely click through to the 1994 tour performance wherein he and Bowie do “Hurt” together. (How the fuck did I miss that tour?)
Longtime Bowie bassist Gail Ann Dorsey — who also became his “Under Pressure” duet partner — was more or less plucked from near-obscurity to tour with him; her memories of him are here. On this one, don’t miss the video of “Under Pressure.”
Oh, make time to read this, because it’s awesome.
Arcade Fire — some of whom live there — will be hosting a second line for Bowie at Preservation Hall tomorrow at 4.
If I weren’t volunteering at the marathon, we’d go.
Bowie’s exit — the release of his album only days before his death, the video of “Lazarus,” the timing of it all — is in no way an accident, and was absolutely planned. His producer confirms it.
A commenter on Metafilter calls it a “nothing-but-net exit,” which to me just about sums it up.
You should never doubt that he was, in addition to so much else, an unstoppable conceptual bastard.
Bowie & Lennox do Under Pressure at the Freddie Mercury tribute:
Several years ago — and most likely via NPR — I became aware of a jazz bassist named Avishai Cohen.
This morning, a really nice video of him and his band playing was in my feeds; you can watch it here, and I suggest you do (ideally with headphones).
As I listened, I tried to go to Wikipedia for a background refresher on Cohen, and found something somewhat surprising.
I already thought it unusual that Cohen is an Israeli-born jazz musician; maybe it’s because I’m a middle-aged white man, but I don’t think of Israelis as being terribly well represented in jazz. So imagine my surprise when my Wikipedia search brought me this:
Yup. In addition to the Israeli-born jazz bassist Avishai Cohen (b. 1970, avishaicohen.com), there’s also an Israeli-born jazz trumpeter named Avishai Cohen (b. 1978, avishaicohenmusic.com), and they appear unrelated.
Neat. Maybe what the jazz world needs now is a collaboration?
I’ve mentioned this here before, but I’ll note again for the record that I was shocked to learn in my twenties that this 70s-soft-rock gem was, in the true folk tradition, about a current event, not something that happened in the age of sail. Gordon Lightfoot wrote and recorded the song only a month after the sinking, in December of 1975. To this day, nobody really knows what took her down — the weather was obviously a factor, and could’ve produced a massive wave, but that’s speculation.
There’s a whole host of links available at this MeFi thread that may be worth your time if you, like me, find the whole thing fascinating.
Via FB, I find this blog listing the 25 best southeastern college rock songs from the 1980s, and it is GLORIOUS.
(Shuddup, snake people.)